I ran to the treetops, I ran to the sky,
Out to the lake, into the rain that matted my hair
and soaked my shoes and skin...
Hid my tears, hid my fears.
I ran to the forest, I ran to the trees,
I ran and I ran, I was looking for me.
Grey rain drizzled through the canopy of leaves overhead and pattered softly onto Legolas’ makeshift flet. The young elf prince sat curled up in a ball with his knees pulled up to his chest, conserving his body warmth.
It had been more than a fortnight since he left home. He was not exactly homesick, for he rather liked being on his own to some extent, but he was worried about how things fared for his family and his friends.
The young elf pulled his sodden cloak a little closer around his shoulders and wondered if Raniean and Trelan had completed their rites already and gathered all the necessary tokens.
Near the base of the tree, a bower of leaves kept a curing wolf pelt safe from the rain.
Legolas flexed his aching arm. He had panicked more than he wanted to admit when the wolves attacked him. His fright made his muscles tense and he had strained something in his arm working his bowstring. Still, he was alive and the wolves were not. It was not an encounter he would have wished for, and yet it did fulfill the need for one of his tokens.
There were three tokens a young wood-elf needed to bring back from his rite of passage: twelve of the rare, healing herbs that grew wild in the woods, an animal hide, and a mark of courage. Legolas had everything now but the last. However the more he thought about it, the more troublesome what he didn’t have became. What in Arda was a mark of courage anyway? Their teachers had never explained that to the young elves, telling them that when they were out there, they would just know. Well blast it all Legolas didn’t know and time was draining away from him.
The prince rested his face on his knees. He had hoped to be back by now. He really had wanted to return before the Yén celebration, but by now it had already come and gone.
He wondered if his father was still searching for him. The young prince’s woodsman’s skills were advanced for his age and he had thus far managed to stay well away from anyone but the trees and the woodland creatures. There were not many of those right now. The fighting between the elves seemed to have driven them all away, which contributed to the problems that the hunting parties were constantly encountering.
Legolas knew he shouldn’t have been thinking about food. His stomach growled. He had not started this trip with any reserves to spare and had been able to hunt and scavenge a marginal living at best since then. Still, he had not done too poorly for himself and was stronger than the night he ran away more than two weeks ago.
The wolf meat was not to his tastes, but he was hungry enough that he ate it anyway. It was the first meat he had seen in a long time, even before leaving home.
The young elf was tired. He was always tired lately. Legolas did not mean to fall asleep, but presently his head was nodding and the soothing patter of the rain drifted him off to rest.
When Legolas awoke, the rain had stopped and the sun was setting. The young elf jerked upright quickly, looking around. He usually did not stay in one place for so long, finding a new resting place each night for safety's sake. Now however, he had no choice for he was not so foolish as to risk this wild part of the forest at night.
Climbing down the tree he bundled up the cured wolf hide and carried it back up the tree with him, rolling it into his pack with the carefully dried herbs.
Sighing, the prince settled himself down for a watchful night.
the late watches of the night, the peace of the forest was shattered by
urgent blowing of a horn. The panic-laden blasts were cut short
abruptly as they had started. Sharp
cries and angry snarls carried through the trees.
Legolas’ head popped up, his senses fully alert and looking for the source of the threat. That was soon to become apparent.
The prince saw six or seven wolves rush by under his tree, heading towards the sounds of the conflict. From the great clamor of snaps and snarls away to the south, it sounded as if there were already quite a few of the beasts out there.
Legolas had had a feeling that the three wolves he had encountered yesterday were merely part of a larger pack that must be somewhere nearby. The lack of game hurt the wolves as it did the elves, and drove them to greater ferocity. Instead of following the game in its migration out of Mirkwood, the packs had banded together and begun to attack the parties of elves that scoured the countryside for food. In such large groups, the creatures were fearless.
Legolas quickly hitched his pack over his shoulder and took off across the tree boughs towards the sounds of the altercation. He thought he had heard elven voices somewhere in the clamor. Jumping from branch to branch, the prince stayed in the treetops to avoid getting stuck in a melee on the ground. Wolves couldn’t climb trees, that was one small mercy.
Once he reached the place where the wolves were congregating, the sheer number of them gathered there took his breath away. Twenty at least, maybe more. He saw that a small number of the creatures lay dead already; their bodies a black splotch against the forest floor. However, they were not what held Legolas’ attention. What held his attention was the remaining wolves’ intended prey.
Two raven heads and one golden, obviously elves because they were glowing dimly, obviously young elves because their stature was far too small for an adult. It was difficult to see faces from above, but Legolas did not need to see. He knew them at a glance and his heart chilled in his breast.
Trelan, Brenyf and Sarcaulien were surrounded by scores of angry, snarling wolves. They were alone and badly out-numbered.
Brenyf seemed to be injured because he was favoring one leg as the three young elves stood shoulder to shoulder in a loose circle, trying desperately to hold their own against the ravenous hordes. The wolves had them trapped in the center of a large clearing, unable to reach the safety of the trees. The surrounded elves seemed to be gathered around something on the ground that the prince could not see in the dark chaos, almost as if they were protecting something or someone.
Legolas didn’t have to be a full-fledged warrior to see that his friends were not going to walk out of this alive.
Trelan had the disadvantage of being almost eye-level with the wolves, but he fought them with the energy of two elves. One fell with his knife in its throat while a second that had rushed him was abruptly checked by a swift, deadly slash from Sarcaulien’s flashing blade. Brenyf held a barbed spear taller than himself with which he was keeping the creatures in front of him at bay. His signal horn had been broken after the first call and there was no further chance of their trying to summon help.
The dark form of a wolf struck Sarcaulien in the chest, knocking him backward. Trelan, nearest at hand, leapt forward, practically jumping on the creature's back as he stabbed at it furiously, trying to pull it away from the other downed elfling. Unfortunately this left his own back uncovered and vulnerable.
A wolf leapt at the short elf, fangs snapping... only to fall with a surprised yelp, an arrow through its throat.
Standing on a low hanging branch that gave him the best view of the glade below, Legolas already had his bow bent and strung with another arrow. In rapid succession he loosed a fierce, deadly volley on the attacking creatures below, trying to give the others stuck on the ground a little breathing room.
Legolas’ constant practicing stood him in good stead now. He was lethal with a bow. He did not yet possess the full capabilities and prowess that later years would bring him but, for a child of his age, he was more than formidable.
Sarcaulien snatched the momentary reprieve to heave the wolf carcass off him and scramble back to his feet while Brenyf made sure that Trelan, also regaining his feet, was all right.
Looking up in the direction the arrows were coming from, they saw Legolas in the tree.
“Legolas!” Trelan shouted his friend’s name in surprise even as a new wave of wolves rushed them and they were forced on the defensive once more.
Legolas was shooting as fast as he could, but although every arrow found a wolf body, he was not yet accurate enough for every shot to be fatal. There were simply too many wolves; they could not win this fight. It would be better to run if they could.
“Trelan! Sar! Bren! Break for the trees! I’ll try to cover you, you’ve got to get off the ground!” the prince shouted.
Trelan shook his head, panting hard and out of breath. “We can’t, Legolas! Ada’s hurt bad, he’s unconscious. We can’t leave him!”
Legolas could now see that the dark shape the three young elves were placing themselves around was the body of an older elf. Telrayn was shimmering only very faintly in the darkness and Legolas didn’t know what that meant, but he hoped it wasn’t bad. His mind raced as he strung off another round of arrows. No, they couldn’t leave the older elf to be devoured by the wolves... but neither could the three smaller elves hope to fight their way free of the clearing carrying him. Their only option seemed to be trying to defeat the wolves, no matter how hopeless a venture it appeared.
The prince’s groping fingers found only air behind him. A hasty glance over his shoulder showed him that his quiver was empty, his arrows spent. He could do no more good from up here in the safety of the trees. Taking a deep breath and pulling the long knife from his belt, Legolas leapt down into the fray. He could not hope to land directly near his friends because he was too far away, but he tried to angle his jump to land as close as possible.
One of the wolves caught his boot in its teeth before he touched down. Legolas was unprepared for the sudden jolt as his center of balance shifted wildly. He slammed into the ground hard on his back and felt hot pain lance through him as his right shoulder absorbed the full brunt of his impact with the hard-packed earth. A twisted tree root caught him between the shoulder blades, making him stifle a cry before he rolled to his feet, scrambling away from the wolves that were trying to pounce on him.
Immediately the prince was surrounded by snapping teeth and slashing claws. Fighting his way to the other elves’ side, he stood with his friends in the protective ring around Telrayn’s body. Legolas did not wonder what death would feel like, but he did have the odd, detached thought that if he died here, he was glad he would be dead when the news reached his father. Thranduil would kill him.
Death however, was not in the immediate future for this particular set of elves. Just when the four youngsters thought they could hold their ground no longer they heard the welcome sound of swift feet running through the trees nearby. A sudden rain of arrows filled the dark air, felling the ravening wolves in droves. After only a few moments, the beasts quickly realized that they were outmatched and turned tail, fleeing into the night.
Several elves bearing torches rushed into the clearing, stepping over the heaps of wolf carcasses. Most of the new arrivals were other young elves, but there were a few adult teachers among them.
Raniean and Randomir reached the small group in the clearing first.
“Trey, Bren, Sar!” Raniean was sobbing for breath, having run faster than he ever had before to get here after hearing the distress signal. “Are you all right? What happened to Telrayn? What...” he stopped abruptly when he realized there was one too many people present. He blinked. “Legolas?”
Randomir was absolutely shocked. “Your highness? What in the name of Elbereth are you doing here?!” He knew Legolas had been missing the morning they left, but had not been given any details and assumed the boy was hiding somewhere in the palace to show his displeasure at his father’s decision to hold him back. As per the conditions of the trials, they had had no further contact with civilization after that. None of them knew that the prince had been missing this whole time.
Legolas shifted uncomfortably under his mentor’s scrutiny. Any chance he had had was over now; he was certain Randomir and the others would make him go back. He would be forced to return a failure and that thought sent despair shooting through the young elf.
He was momentarily saved from answering by Trelan. “He saved us, that’s what he did!” the small elf said proudly, shooting his friend a grateful look. Sarcaulien and Brenyf nodded. They would not have been able to hold out long enough for help to arrive by themselves.
Legolas flushed. “You were doing fine by yourselves, Trelan, I just helped a little,” he tried to downplay his role.
“Right,” Trelan said sarcastically, hugging his sides, which ached from exertion and lack of breath. The small elf dropped down next to his father’s side on his knees, worriedly hovering over the older elf. “Is Ada going to be all right?” he turned huge, hurting eyes upon Randomir.
“He hit his head hard on a rock when one of the wolves jumped him during the battle,” Brenyf said quietly. “We couldn’t get him to wake up.”
Randomir was already kneeling by his friend’s side, checking Telrayn’s vitals. His face was more relaxed when he looked up again. He touched Trelan’s dirty and worried cheek gently with the back of his hand. “He’s going to be fine, Trelan, he’s just unconscious. He’ll have a nasty headache when he awakes, but nothing more, thanks to the four of you.”
Trelan beamed happily. “Ran, he’s going to be all right!” he felt compelled to inform, although his friend was standing right beside him and had already heard.
Raniean smiled in relief. “Good. You should know better than to go getting in trouble without me!” he chided his friend good-naturedly. “What happened?”
“We were on our way back to camp from night watch and the wolves jumped us,” Trelan related excitedly, able to feel very proud of the whole adventure now that it was safely over. “Ada got hurt and we had to fight, and then when things were looking desperate, Legolas showed up firing arrows from the trees. He jumped down into the middle of them to join us and we all fought together, and then you showed up and you should have seen those wolves run!”
This caused Raniean to turn back to Legolas. Legolas could tell his friend was about to ask how he had gotten there again, so he headed him off with a question of his own. “Ran, what are you doing this far north? I thought you were all going to be many leagues from here.”
“Legolas, we have covered so much of this forest you would not believe it,” the other elf laughed easily. “But we are on our way home now, the trials are over; all of us passed!” he said excitedly.
Legolas sobered. “Oh. That’s... that’s wonderful Ran.”
Raniean was so happy, and so glad to see his friend whom he had sorely missed these past weeks, that he did not notice the other young elf’s less than enthusiastic reaction. “But what are you doing here, Legolas? Did your father change his mind? I so hoped he would! Are your guards somewhere about? I can’t believe the King would let you out this far by yourself.”
Randomir was on his feet again now that Tegi and Cirlith were seeing to Telrayn and Brenyf, who had some nasty scratches across his calf.
“Yes, Legolas, that’s something I would like to know as well.” His mentor’s voice was cool and Legolas flinched.
Raniean frowned at his father’s tone and the way Legolas squirmed. He suddenly realized that maybe Legolas being here wasn’t such a good thing for the prince.
“Legolas... your father does know you’re here, right?” the young elf asked incredulously.
“Not-not exactly. But... I... I wanted to complete the rite,” Legolas admitted quietly, casting nervous glances in Randomir’s direction to gauge the elder elf’s reaction.
Randomir closed his eyes, realizing to his surprise and horror that Legolas had probably been out here on his own since they left more than a fortnight ago. “Legolas, I appreciate your courage, but that was extremely unwise. I’m going to have to insist that you return with us right away. Your father and mother must be sick worrying about you.”
“I know,” Legolas whispered quietly. “I’m sorry. I wanted to prove I was worthy to be considered a real warrior, but I suppose perhaps I am not after all. I have two of the tokens,” he indicated his bag, speaking quickly now to cover his discomfort. “But no hope for the third. I’ve broken Ada and Nana’s trust for nothing,” he murmured ashamedly, pressing his palms hard into his tired, aching eyes.
Raniean bit his lip hard, wishing there was something he could do, and Trelan’s brows furrowed deeply. They hurt for their friend. They wished his father would have just let him come.
Randomir touched Legolas’ arm lightly, making him look back up again. “Your parents are another issue, Legolas, one that you and they are going to have to deal with, but this I will tell you: you did not fail.”
Legolas blinked, looking up at him in confusion. “But, the tokens... I don’t-”
Randomir shook his head. “The mark of courage is not something you can find lying around, Legolas. It is earned. For Raniean and the others, they earned theirs at different points during our hunt, some in situations planned by us as elders to test them, some in accidental ways when the elements themselves chose the challenge.” Randomir looked around at the corpse-strewn glade. “It seems, Legolas, that life has chosen to test you hardest of all perhaps, but you rose to the occasion. You stood by your friends with no thought for yourself. For this, I give you your mark of courage. Will you accept and stand witness to this, Tegi?” Randomir turned to the other teacher who had the final say in such matters.
Tegi inclined his head in assent. “I will.”
Randomir clapped Legolas lightly on the shoulder. He was glad for Legolas’ sake that at least he would not have to return home with nothing to show for all his effort. The boy was going to be in hot enough water as it was; he did not need to feel like a failure on top of everything else, especially when that was not true.
“All right then.” Randomir glanced upward at the lightening sky above the treetops. “A new day is dawning. Let us go home.”
rain returned with a vengeance when the elves were about a mile away
home. This close to the end of their long journey no one wanted
to stop and
the party pushed on, anxious to make their destination.
Most of them were anxious that was; Legolas was not. True, it was better to hurry up and face his parents, getting it over with sooner rather than later, but his feet felt heavy and his stomach gnawed with an unsettled feeling that had nothing to do with how little food he had had lately.
Legolas walked slowly, letting himself settle to the back of the party, trailing a little distance behind the main group. The happy, celebratory air of all the other young elves around him only made him feel worse. They were all wet, tired and drained, but his friends were happy, and Legolas wished he could share in their joy. At the moment, however, he felt like he was returning to the hangman’s noose.
“Legolas? Are you all right?” Raniean’s soft voice at his side pulled the prince from his darkly spiraling thoughts. Both young elves had their hoods pulled up over their heads and water plastered their golden locks to their faces. Raniean swiped at his hair, trying to push it back under his hood as the wind swirled lightly around them.
Legolas shook his head with a weary, forced grin. “No, Ran, not really.” He shrugged indifferently as if he didn’t care.
Raniean eyed his friend. “You aren’t hurt somewhere you’re not telling me are you? Should we ask Tegi and Ada to slow the pace a little?”
Legolas shook his head quickly to the negative. His right shoulder was hurting him quite a bit as a result of his tumble early that morning, but that was not what was bothering the young elf.
“I’ll be all right. Go on and catch up with the others, you should be celebrating.” Legolas tried to assure his friend, but his words caught in his throat a little and he was glad the patter of the rain covered his weakness. He felt so desperately alone right now, but he didn’t want Raniean feeling sorry for him.
“So should you,” Raniean countered quietly. “This is your victory too, Legolas. You passed, my friend, and you even did it alone. I’m actually rather jealous,” the young elf said with a small smile.
Legolas chuckled slightly. “You won’t be when I have to face my father and mother.”
“No, I suppose not,” Raniean agreed. “But think of the wonderful story you’ll have to tell someday!”
Legolas smiled, warmed by his friend’s attempts to cheer him. Then his eyes clouded up like the overcast sky above once more.
Raniean sighed. Legolas had grown moodier and more somber the past few seasons. He knew now that it had started with Legolas’ uncle, but it grieved Raniean’s heart that it had not completely faded even though Doriflen was gone from the prince’s life.
“There, I’ve lost you again,” he said sadly. “Legolas... you used to talk to me. I know I’m not always much good, but... Trelan and I are here, Legolas. You’re not alone you know. I-I would protect you with my life, but I can’t help you when you won’t let me near you.”
Legolas’ lips compressed into a tight line, unconsciously imitating his father. His breathing came a little short and he was glad for the rain pouring down his face. He wanted to talk to Raniean, he wanted his life back as it used to be... but he wasn’t sure that was possible.
“I don’t mean to, Ran, honest. I want nothing more than for things to be like they were,” Legolas’ voice was a whisper.
Raniean shook his head. “Legolas, Ada says that nothing can ever be as it was, because the past is past, but the future can be good too if we make it so. I think he’s right.”
Legolas considered this and saw the truth behind the simple words. However it was so much easier to know that than to live it sometimes. “I think so too. It’s just... it doesn’t seem like there’s anything too pleasant in my future right now.” The prince swallowed roughly and glanced back at his bulky pack. “And I know that’s my own fault, but... Ran... what if he doesn’t accept it?”
“You mean your father?” Raniean guessed rightly.
Legolas gave a single nod. It was almost unheard of for the father of a young elf to reject the offering after a successful rite of passage, but it was not impossible. If the offering was rejected, then all the trials were as null; worse though, the young elf had no place in that house any longer. That thought had only occurred to Legolas a few days ago, and it had been wearing heavily on him since then. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I left. It seemed a good idea then, but now... even with success... I don’t know. What if they cannot forgive me? What if I have broken Nana’s heart? What if Ada rejects my tokens? What if... he rejects me?”
Raniean wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulder. He would have liked to tell Legolas that that would never happen, but to be perfectly truthful, he didn’t know. Thranduil was something of an enigma to the prince’s friends and Raniean did not presume to know the King nearly well enough to guess his mind. For his friend’s sake, however, he desperately hoped that the King would not wound his son that way, no matter what Legolas had done.
“Then you can come live with us,” Raniean said seriously, but with a hint of enthusiasm. “I know Ada and Nana would take you. I wouldn’t even have to ask, Ada’d take you in at a moment’s notice.”
Legolas chuckled around the hard lump in his throat at the clear-cut and easy way Raniean opened his family, his heart and his home to his friend. The thing was, he did not doubt for a moment that Raniean and Randomir would take him in if his own family rejected him... was it so wrong of him to wish that he could feel that sure of his own father’s unwavering love and approval? Oh, he knew Thranduil loved him... but under what conditions?
“What? Are we putting dibs on Legolas now?” Trelan had fallen back to join them and caught the tail end of their conversation. He could see that Legolas was feeling badly and wanted to help.
“You can’t have him, Trelan, I offered first!” Raniean crowed good-naturedly, hooking his arm through Legolas’.
Trelan hooked his arm through Legolas’ other elbow. “Oh you’d like living with me much better, Legolas. Ada can be testy, but Nana makes the best tarts and honey-cakes in the entire forest.”
“Trelan, he’d never get any rest! Your cousins are always at your house and they’re always getting into trouble!” Raniean protested. “That’s why you come and spend all your time at my house, remember?”
Legolas was laughing now, an honest, mirthful laugh which did Raniean and Trelan’s hearts good to hear. “Peace, peace! If you don’t mind, I would rather hope to stay in my own home, but it is truly good to know that I will never be left without a place to go.”
Through the rain, the sealed gates of the palace wound into view. Legolas took a deep breath. “Wish me luck, mellyn,” he whispered.
Raniean and Trelan both squeezed his arms before releasing him. They only wished there was more they could do.
Randomir appeared beside them. “Legolas, I told Tegi that I would take you home. Raniean, I want you to continue on to the village with the others. When you see Naneth, tell her I will be there as soon as I may. If I am not back in time for the commencement, Telrayn will stand for you until I can get there.” Randomir’s eyes asked his son’s forgiveness for being absent at such an important time, but Raniean harbored no hurt feelings over it in the least. He would much rather that his father went with Legolas right now; he knew the prince was going to need him.
Both boys bid Legolas one final, encouraging farewell before moving off. Legolas heard Trelan remark to Raniean as they hurried to catch up with the other boys: “So... if my father stands up for you too, then that makes us brothers in a way, doesn’t it?”
Raniean laughed. “Not if that means I have to live in your house! Are you trying to kidnap everyone Trelan? Honestly, don’t you have enough family underfoot?”
Trelan chuckled and shoved his friend, nearly knocking the other boy over on the rain-slicked ground, but they were too far away and his retort was lost to Legolas’ ears.
The prince sighed, realizing he was stalling. Turning resolutely back to the gates, he glanced up at Randomir. “Thank you for coming with me,” he murmured quietly.